Republicans Vote to Fire Top Elections Official, Spurring Legal Battle Over Whether They Can Do That

Wolfe Kaul Vos LeMahieu

Meagan Wolfe (top left) administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, state Attorney General Josh Kaul (bottom left), Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (top right) and Senate Republican Leader Devin LeMahieu (bottom right) are in a legal face-off over the Republicans' effort to fire Wolfe even though her position is not legally vacant.

By Pat Kreitlow

September 14, 2023

The move comes as Assembly Republicans passed a watered-down redistricting reform bill and continue to talk of impeaching State Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

The Republican majority in the state Senate voted to fire Wisconsin Elections Commission Meagan Wolfe, a move that was met with a lawsuit from the commission and Attorney General Josh Kaul—seeking a court’s confirmation that the Senate vote has no legal standing.

Kaul and the commission are arguing that the vote was illegal because the Senate voted to remove Wolfe, despite the fact that she was never formally renominated to her position. Without a renomination, the plaintiffs argue, there’s no reason to hold a vote on Wolfe’s future.

Renomination requires a majority vote (four of the six commission members), something that has not happened. Republicans nonetheless moved to consider Wolfe’s (non-existent) renomination as an expression of no confidence in Wolfe, a nationally-respected administrator who oversaw the 2020 presidential election and refuted the lies and conspiracy theories still espoused by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Kaul and the commission filed their complaint in Dane County Circuit Court, seeking a ruling that the Senate’s vote on the resolution “has no legal effect.” It also seeks an injunction to prevent legislators from moving to appoint an interim administrator.

Commission member Ann Jacobs, one of three Democrats on the panel, posted on social media that Republicans had “fabricated a ‘nomination’ out of whole cloth, with [their] own attorneys pointing out they have no jurisdiction. You can’t ‘resolve’ your way to an illegal vote. Either you have the law or you don’t. The Senate doesn’t have the law.”

Gov. Tony Evers also released a statement that was forceful in outlining the stakes of the GOP’s “dangerous efforts to interfere with our elections.” 

“Republicans today demonstrated why they cannot be trusted … because they will threaten, intimidate, punish, and even attempt to illegally fire anyone who stands in the way of their relentless pursuit to retain political power.”

Evers also blasted Republicans in the Assembly who convened Thursday and quickly passed a new plan they say would reform how maps are drawn for legislative and congressional districts. GOP lawmakers have been drawing their own maps since 2011, manipulating district lines to lock in majorities that far surpass their statewide level of support—a process known as gerrymandering.

While Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) claimed the new maps would be drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff, the bill’s language shows that lawmakers could simply reject the first drafts and eventually create their own once more.

The Vos plan—hastily written and passed in about 48 hours, without any input through a committee-held public hearing—is designed to short-circuit a new legal challenge to the existing maps, one that may be better received by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s new liberal majority than the conservative justices who controlled the court for 15 years before Justice Janet Protasiewicz took office last month.

Because Protasiewicz acknowledged the studies and election results that show the extreme nature of the Republican gerrymander, GOP leaders want Protasiewicz to recuse herself from the lawsuits seeking to overturn the existing maps—and are threatening to impeach her if she refuses. 

Such a move would be extraordinarily controversial, as plenty of past Supreme Court candidates have stated their values on the campaign trail without ever being removed from office.

Republicans—some of whom supported Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 loss in Wisconsin–have come under intense criticism from around the country in recent weeks for appearing to want to nullify the results of the April election that didn’t go their way. .

No Compromise from GOP on Tax Cuts, Child Care

The fights over Protasiewicz and Wolfe are overshadowing issues that were expected to play a larger role in the fall session. But Republicans opted to pass warmed-over versions of their springtime proposals—a tax cut skewed toward the very rich and childcare bills that would end the popular and essential Child Care Counts program. 

More than 1,000 members of Wisconsin Early Childhood Action Needed submitted a petition Thursday rejecting the Republican childcare bills, which are based on removing safeguards that limit the number of children who can be in a childcare center and lowering the age at which someone can watch children unsupervised. 

“None of the proposals are based on actual research or data,” the petition said. “The proposed items will actually decrease the childcare workforce, decrease quality, and price-out parents from having access to childcare.  The proposed policy changes are in complete opposition to best practices and unequivocal research in early childhood education and development.”

Evers has called a special session of the Legislature for next week, but there are no signs GOP leaders would compromise on either subject before then.

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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